Monday, July 27, 2015

Gambian democracy goes to the highest bidder

Gambia looks set to raise the cost of running in next year's elections with a new bill that a pro-democracy group says will make it harder for opposition parties to compete against President Yahya Jammeh.

Parliament passed a bill on Tuesday requiring presidential candidates to pay 500,000 dalasis (about $12,740). Candidates for the national assembly, mayor and ward councillor will also need to pay between $250 and $12,750 under the revised bill that Jammeh is likely to sign into law. The government said the bill was aimed at ensuring that political parties are organised and well led.

"Half a million dalasis is way out of reach for the majority of Gambians, especially the opposition," said JegganGrey-Johnson, an analyst for Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa. "It is meant to price ... a majority of the people out."

The oppositional newspaper Foroyaa criticised the bill's like passage in an editorial, saying it does not respect the electoral commission's independence. "Every honest Gambian ... (should) know that the amendment is a threat to the independence of the (Electoral) Commission and a barrier to the democratic and unrestricted participation of the people in electing their representatives," it said.

The average annual income in Gambia, one of the world's poorest countries, is around $450. The country relies on tourism but its industry was battered last year by a regional Ebola outbreak even though Gambia did not record a case.

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